China’s involvement in Europe and European relations with China are controversial. Many political commentators warn of China’s growing influence. The ratification of the Commission Investment Agreement, negotiated between China and the EU at the end of 2020, has been put on hold by the European Parliament. In the future, the EU Commission plans to take action against state-supported foreign investments in Europe — an initiative clearly directed against China. The fear behind it is that China could weaken Europe in the long term.
Wolfgang Müller is a social scientist and computer scientist and worked for IG Metal Bavaria until 2014. He lived in China for several years and publishes regularly on development and industrial relations in China. His most recent book is Die Rätsel Chinas — Wiederaufstieg einer Weltmacht (VSA, 2021).
Yet China does not intend to weaken Europe or the EU. The country advocates internationally for a multilateral world order, and that includes a strong Europe. The long-term commitments Chinese companies have made in Southern and Southeastern Europe are based on solid business interests: these companies get better access to the European market and thereby further their own internationalization. Infrastructure projects co-financed by China promote the economic integration of Europe, but at the same time they make clear the deficits and lack of direction of EU policy.
China’s rise to an industrial and technological world power also presents a challenge for the dominant powers in the EU and especially for Germany, which see China as a “systemic rival”. Because of this, the exaggerated narrative that China is buying its way into Europe is spreading.